Friday, June 12, 2009

Collabrative Learning and a Luxurious Approach to the Mind of Schumpeter

There are various ways one goes about reading a text and even more ways to learn and digest material. I have a general technique involving a mechanical pencil and a set of markings I have developed to indicate various ideas and reactions as I move through the pages. Underlining sentences of importance, to give an obvious example.

When I read books that I have borrowed from others, I notice their system. I have adapted my approach once or twice in response to what I have learned. For instance, after seeing how Gordon Tullock marked the pages of texts he was reading by sliding his pencil off the page such that a marking was left on the fore edge of the book, I gave it a try. I can only assume this made it easy to flip through and see where you thought the important parts and notations were. I have since discarded this method - it doesn't seem to work well for me and the way in which my memory serves me. One technique I have adopted concerns a specific notation for identifying when an author states a definition; something I picked up from a fellow TPS blogger.

Don Lavoie was interested in the various methods by which people come to learn and understand -- curious about the role technology can play in coordinating knowledge. He worked on various projects inside the classroom and with the Program on Social & Organizational Learning during his time at George Mason University. In short, his ideas focused on the dialogue process that takes place between an author and the reader and the differences in conversation that take place with written word and verbal discussion. He experimented with his students using hypertext technology whereby different readers could mark a text, allowing various readers to engage with the text -- asking questions, posing challenges in margins, highlighting etc. Lavoie called this process collaborative learning.

I think there are collaborative learning aspects to blogging and I would like to try an experiment. I am currently reading Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis for "summer enjoyment reading" (ie it is not directly related to any of my current working papers). I would like to blog my reading of this book and have thought about how I would do it. What one must first know about HEA is that the text is roughly 1200 pages, with endless footnotes in what could only be 6pt font. Moreover, the footnotes are where the action is, so they are not to be skipped over lightly. The book covers everything from Plato and Aristotle right up to contemporary economics around the time of Schumpeter's death in 1950.

The text is amazing and the story of its creation is incredible. Written over the course of a lifetime, the book was only in manuscript when Schumpeter passed. His wife edited the completed version (also dieing shortly after). Much of the text was in handwritten form, with several revised versions, no page numbers, and written in multiple languages. Put it this way: the Editor's Introduction reads like a bibliophile's romance novel.

After much consideration, I have decided to blog this book unsystematically. In other words, I will not summarize chapters or post consistently. I will however, post interesting ideas and claims that Schumpeter makes in the text. I may also post beautifully crafted sentences, as I believe Schumpeter to be one of the best writers economics has ever had. I will post my own thoughts on passages or related questions. I will be happy to elaborate on particular themes and will grant reasonable reader requests as I move slowly through the text. For all posts, I will include citations to the Oxford University Press 1954 Edition.

I have chosen to approach History of Economic Analysis in this manner for several reasons. First, the book is a work of art. A theme I will touch on in future posts. Second, it would be highly inefficient to attempt to summarize the chapters. Third, Schumpeter does make stimulating, concise claims that are provocative for discussion. The first reason is strictly utility enhancing for me, but for the third reason I hope that the readers of TPS chime into the discussion in the comments section. My hope is that there will be some positive amount of "collaborative learning" going on as I make my way through the book.

1 comment:

Justin M Ross said...

I very much look forward to it.